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The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp through Civilization's Best Bits

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,454 Ratings  ·  154 Reviews
“An irreverent romp through history’s best bits,” The Mental Floss History of the World is an amazingly entertaining joyride through 60,000 years of human civilization. As audacious as it is edifying, here is a hilarious and irreverent—yet always historically accurate—overview of the ascent (or descent) of humankind, courtesy of the same rebel geniuses who brought you Ment ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published October 28th 2008 by Harper (first published 2008)
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Community Reviews

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May 05, 2009 Janet rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone looking for an overview of world history
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a tough one for me to review. I listened to this book on CD during a long car ride, which definitely had some affect on my rating...I was pretty sick of the narrator's voice by the end of 15 hours and it wasn't quite what I had expected. I picked this "book" up based on the teasers on the back cover, specifically for the following comments - "most interesting bits have been handpicked", "packed with little-known stories", and "outrageous facts". I was looking for a light book to make my ...more
Jan 13, 2009 Dave rated it liked it
It is obvious, of course, that one cannot contain the history of the world in a 400-page book, so the question is why would one ever try? But try they have, and Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur have delivered a humorous and fairly enjoyable trip through the history of the world in their 2008 book “The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp through Civilization’s Best Bits”.

There are several good points about the book. I thought they did a very good job in breaking history down
May 11, 2011 Kam rated it liked it
I picked this book up on a whim. Admittedly, the cover had a lot to do with it: a carnival-like mish-mash of notable historical figures, and the promise of history's "best bits" somewhere in there. As a historical buff, there was absolutely no way I would not pick this up, and I did.

After having just finished reading it, I'm rather on the fence about this one. I see it's merits, to be sure, but at the same time, I do see where a reader might not be happy with it.

First, a caveat. I might just be
Jennifer Gilbert
Sep 06, 2009 Jennifer Gilbert rated it really liked it
There's so much in this book that I couldn't possibly have learned it all on the first read, but now I can say brilliant things at parties like, "The Mongols ... uh, existed. Around ... 1100. I think!"

The jokes were a little hokey at times, but this book served its intended purpose, which was to get me started in my quest to repair an unbelievably crappy education that left me embarrassingly ignorant of pretty much everything. I highlighted tons of summarizing passages that would make interesti
Dec 29, 2014 Kerry rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-books
Why did I love this book one may ask? Mostly BC in the very first page they mention that humans love to eat and "apparently like to have sex.... A LOT", as well as alluding to prostitution. Yeah, that's all you need to get immediate interest from 99% of the world's population. Which is why I use such tactics in my never-ending quest for maximum attention, well not prostitution OF COURSE (my mother reads these, so the need to stay family friendly is obviously of the UTMOST importance)!

A mere few
Thomas A
Oct 20, 2014 Thomas A rated it really liked it
This book encompasses not just important events in history, but small facts some readers would be delighted to know. It includes events from all countries, and ancient civilizations. The chapters are divided into time periods, going from the past to the present. It includes a time line at the beginning, "Thanks for all the.." and "Thanks, but no thanks for..." sections. The book has small footnotes about important people in a certain culture or movement, and interesting facts about someone or so ...more
❂ Jennifer
A great book for those out there who might be like myself: undereducated in history, wanting to know more, but not so fascinated that we require dry academic debate or mind-numbing statistics. Very readable and easy to read as much or as little as you'd like at any one time. I'd highly recommend it.

Full review:
Kevin McAllister
Oct 08, 2008 Kevin McAllister rated it liked it
The authors bill this book as an irreverent romp through civilization's best bits. For the most part the irrevencey does make for an entertaining look through history. On the other hand, the history of the world has often been down right horrifying , and on occasion, that irrevencey is perhaps a tad bit inappropriate.
Sep 14, 2013 Grant rated it really liked it
An amusing though nevertheless useful world history. To me, the most interesting part of the books is that the authors actually "get" world history as a concept, and make a sincere, if somewhat snarky, go at a global perspective. I picked up quite a few good anecdotes for teaching, as well.
Jul 07, 2009 Sara rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: humans
Recommended to Sara by: Dan (who bought it for himself... yoink)
I love history, and I love Mental_floss, so this was a no-brainer. Although it took me quite a while to get through, I really enjoyed this book. It's a 400-page condensed history of the world, chock full of stuff I did not know. And now I do! Read a book!
May 25, 2016 Levi rated it really liked it
An entertaining overview of the world's historical highlights.
May 15, 2014 Jeremy rated it really liked it

By no means comprehensive (and not advertised to be), but engaging throughout. Also, there is plenty of information not typically contained in a standard world history text. For example, who knew that Pope Steven VI exhumed a predecessor’s corpse and put it on trial? Awesome! This book strikes the right balance between fun and substance.


By the 1720s about one out of every four [London] households was involved in making gin.

In the eighteenth century, tonic water containing quinine was one
Cheryl Gatling
Well, I liked it. The criticism of it mostly stems from the fact that it doesn't live up to the praise on the cover. It isn't as funny as advertised. It can't be. No matter how cutely you tell it, world history is just made up of too much war and oppression to actually be funny. But this is cutely told, and I am a sucker for a bad pun and a snarky aside. So I liked it. Each section of the book (each devoted to an era of history) starts with a pretty straightforward listing of events. Then comes ...more
May 13, 2009 Tim rated it it was ok
Gaining and keeping the average reader's interest in history is a problem authors have faced for, well, probably most of history. One method is to try to liven things up with different takes or an unusual focus. That's the promise of The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp through Civilization's Best Bits . It's a promise not totally fulfilled.[return][return]The book approaches its subject like mental_floss magazine, trying to make gaining knowledge fun and accessible. Still, ...more
Jul 04, 2012 Billy rated it it was ok
Maybe I'm missing something...,

"...all of history's most interesting bits have finally been handpicked and roasted to perfection." So states the back cover.

I love history; eat it up. I am also quite the sarcastic you-know-what, with a bit of a conspiracy-theorist spirit and an appreciation for pseudo-history. I say all of that to explain that the reason for not getting this book is not that it wasn't up my alley. Fact is, when I saw it, I let my wife see it and she said that it would seem the bo
Suzanne Moore
Aug 17, 2012 Suzanne Moore rated it liked it
I listened to this on audio while on a long road trip. I wish now I had read it and maybe would have retained more of "civilizations best bits." The fact is, facts don't stick with me much ... stories are much easier to remember. I learn more about history through historical fiction, or through writers such as Stephen Ambrose, Hampton Sides, and Erik Larson. Though I do agree that the history of the world is based mostly on violence. I guess it's true that history repeats itself and mankind is d ...more
May 25, 2010 Julie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, non-fiction
As a regular reader of the Mental Floss website, I enjoyed the quirky condensed history of this book. Considering the breadth of human civilization, they touched on every facet of history, however briefly, with humor and insight. The format was great, breaking each era down into concise summaries by geographic region and also elaborating on positive and negative contributions of each period. My only criticism is the inaccurate portrayal of Henry VIII’s schism with the church on page 198, the pur ...more
Stephanie Griffin
Nov 02, 2011 Stephanie Griffin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history fans.
THE MENTAL FLOSS HISTORY OF THE WORLD is chock-full of interesting nuggets of history that you probably never heard before. From 60,000 BCE to present day, Mental Floss brings you real history spiced with puns and sidebars of humorous character notes, origins of inventions, or quotes.
Each chapter covers a particular era. They begin with an overview, then a timeline, a description of what was happening in a few select places, a “Who’s Up, Who’s Down” score, a section on the good and bad invention
Fiona McGier
Feb 02, 2010 Fiona McGier rated it really liked it
I am about 3/4 through this highly entertaining and educational book. It is one of those rare finds...funny, with tidbits about historical figures and time periods, that make you feel like a really educated person for knowing them. I had no idea what Zoroastrianism was, until I read that it is a religion based on a story very similar to the story of Jesus, but much older. Cinderella's story is just like one written in China in the 600s! And Vikings didn't wear horned helmets into battle because ...more
Sheri C
Audiobook version, read by Johnny Heller. I suspect this book would have been much better in a regular book format, rather than on audio. The boring and repetitive lists of events at each chapter (?) start are probably laid out visually in such a way as to allow you to refer back during the meat of each section. Aside from that, it was still a light and entertaining overview of historical events, presented in a way that I wish my dusty old history teachers could have taught it. I was even mighti ...more
Skuli Saeland
Mar 14, 2014 Skuli Saeland rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Í þessari bók er saga heimsins frá upphafi til 21. aldar sögð í knöppu formi og reynt er að hafa húmorinn og orðaleiki með til að létta upplýsingamagnið og til að gera bæði söguna áhugaverðari og léttmeltari.
Ritið fær plús fyrir mikla yfirferð og hve miklu magni upplýsinga Sass kemur að í knöppu formi. Hann leitast við að segja pólitíska, efnahagslega, matar, samfélagslega, tæknilega sögu heimsins auk alls hins. Þarna er óneitanlega margt sem kemur manni á óvart og er bæði forvitnilegt og skemmt
Jan 02, 2011 Natalie rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, read-in-2010
This is an interesting easy read. Great for a quick read before bed, for a few minutes here and there etc or between other books.
While it is clearly not an exhaustive history it does cover at least briefly most major periods of history and gives a summary of the major civilizations rises and falls for those of us who are not experienced history buffs but just starting out with an interest in history and provides interesting trivia (and sometimes trivial) tidbits. It is also good to read to get
Whitney Garrett
Jun 12, 2015 Whitney Garrett rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book gave a good overview of world history, though it was slightly left of center. It was mostly fair, though a little less so at the very beginning (maybe don't even try to cover unrecorded history, since it's, you know, unrecorded and you're basically just guessing based on your bias, which is just as good as anyone else's bias, etc.?) and at the very end when discussing some of the events that occurred during George W. Bush's presidency and climate change. Which given that this book was ...more
Apr 14, 2016 melydia rated it liked it
Not so good as a reference book, but a fun and surprisingly thorough overview of world history. There isn't as much about Africa as I would have liked, but they didn't have written records as early as the rest of the world, so it's kind of understandable that we know less about the ancient history of the people there. I liked the way the time periods had sections of bite-sized facts, like "who's up, who's down" and "so long, and thanks for all the...", to describe often vastly disparate topics a ...more
Kiera Beddes
Nov 14, 2015 Kiera Beddes rated it liked it
I didn't learn anything outstandingly new or different. As for the title, it wasn't so much an irreverent romp through history so much as a popcorn style speed walk through history. The narrative would jump from place to place at times with breathtaking speed, which I understand is one of the problems with any book discussing the history of the world, by covering the whole world, invariably, you have to jump around a lot. Also, the structure of the book didn't translate well to audiobook. Lists ...more
Feb 19, 2013 Alicia rated it it was amazing
I'm a history nerd, so this book was right up my alley. I already had Mental Floss' History of the US, which I had sort of read in bits, skipping around from here to there. I bought this one and decided to read it like a normal person, from start to finish. I wish it had talked more about the beginning of human history, because it was just briefly mentioned, but otherwise this book was a great overview of world history. Definitely helped me remember things I learned back in school that I had lon ...more
Jul 24, 2009 Kelley rated it liked it
I have enjoyed Mental Floss magazine for some time and have commented on two previous Mental Floss books. This one was a bit of a let down. While being a fairly quick read and filled it numerous historical tid-bits, it lacked the humor that the previous books contained. There is some clever turning of phrases and some clever subject and chapter headings, but overall it succeeds in creating knowing nods rather than laughs.

Don't get me wrong, it was worth reading for the fun of it and the trip thr
Steele Dimmock
Mar 10, 2014 Steele Dimmock rated it really liked it
A surprisingly accurate and fun trip through the world's history with particular attention to political and military events. It is world history as seen through western eyes which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I enjoyed the liberal use of dad jokes and, as if in a blog or email, the author would occasionally write casually to the reader. An effective tactics to dilute the sometimes tedious or heavy subject matter.

Even though I am familiar with world history at a high level, exactly the topic th
Jul 07, 2013 Alexandrea rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This is a mostly entertaining and brief survey of world history (sorry Canada, you're still not really mentioned until the Afterword) that helped to jog my memory of things I learned throughout grade school. The only reason I have to rate this as four stars instead of five is that the American audiobook version (the version I "read") really butchers a lot of foreign names, particularly the Asian ones, but also including more commonly heard names like "Saddam" (pronounced in the audiobook more li ...more
Kyle Goetz
Feb 17, 2013 Kyle Goetz rated it really liked it
The title indicates two things: (1) it is a history of the world; and (2) Mental Floss is the responsible party.

The book is indeed a history of the world, and a pretty thorough one at that. On #2, Mental Floss is a noted presenter of information in an irreverent, magazine format. The book delivers on the humor, too.

If you want to read a history of the world in bites and have fun doing it, read this book.

I would not recommend you make this the only book you are reading, though. Reading a history,
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“If the Mongols had a motto, it might have been “Have weapon, will travel.” 1 likes
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